A trip to the Upper Yarra in 1907, camping near McVeigh’s

‘On the morning of the 9th inst. a party of seven, consisting of a councillor (hereafter called ” The General”), his two sons (” The Farrier” and “The Baker”), a local chemist (” Dr. Pills”) and* his son (” Norme”), a contractor known as “The Champion” (tea drinker), and the son of one of Kew’s oldest councillors (known as “Captain Moonlight”), left Kew at 8 P.m. with a caravan drawn by two small horses, and two bicycles, en route to the falls at the source of the Yarra River.

Brushy Creek (16 miles) was reached, and a halt was made for lunch, thence through Lilydale to Worri Yallock (32 miles), where the camp was pitched for the night. Fishing was indulged in at night and shooting in the morning.

January 10 -A start was made at 8.30, but at Oak Hill (a few miles further on) the hames broke, and a .new pair had to be purchased. Another start was proposed, but one of the horses objected; consequently, the services of a draught horse were called into requisition, and the whole caravan was safely towed up to the top of this steep hill. Launching Place was reached at 11.30, where the midday meal was disposed of. One thirty to 2 p.m. was occupied in covering the distance to Yarra Junction, where a halt was made until 4 30 p.m. There negotiations were made for the hire of a pair of heavier horses, which were secured at the exorbitant (save the mark !) fee of 10s per day for two horses, a driver, and the keep of the horses. The party then pushed on to the Little Yarra and camped for the night, and were joined at 9 p.m. by “The Measurer.”

January 11 -We were met by the driver with the two hired horses, and a start was made at 7.40 a.m., and we passed through Old Warburton, the new township of Hillgrove, and thence along the banks of the Yarra to Warburton itself, the present terminus of the railway extension into this part of the state. The scenery here and further along the route is best described by the word, ” Grand “- grandeur everywhere. From this point almost to the furthest point of our journey we have the beautiful ever-flowing rapid waters of the Yarra on our left, and steep, precipitous mountains on our right, lifting their heads up into the clouds.

Here and there bridges have been thrown across the river to connect the settlers on the far side of the river with civilisation on this. The whole scene is picturesque. The timber trade with this railway station is enormous – timber trains are sprung upon you at nearly every turn of the road, and the cartage from outlying districts by bullock wagons has cut the roads up terribly. For the past two years (so we were informed, and we could readily believe it) no attempt at repairs has been made. The consequence is that from this point onwards you have to keep your eyes open continuously for large holes and deep ruts. The balance of the roadway is covered inches deep in dust.

Having laid in a further supply of provisions, we pushed on to Sunnydale (3 miles), where we camped for dinner. This spot is as pleasant a one as the eye could rest upon. The river is almost horse-shoe shape, the soil is of a chocolate volcanic origin, planted with English grasses, and the cattle grazing thereon were in prime condition. The beautiful green tinge of the grass, contrasted very strongly with the brown, sunburnt, natural grasses hitherto met with. Having refreshed the inner man and consoled ourselves with a game of crib, we set out for Starvation Creek, where we purposed camping for the night.

Some three miles short of our destination we were overtaken by two young men on rather flash horses, from whom we made enquiries as to the distance yet to be covered. They were as deficient in knowledge of the locality (if not more so) as we were ourselves. At the conclusion of our inquiries our “corner man”- mounted on his white charger, wearing blue dungarees and leggings, minus a coat, shirt-sleeves rolled up, and hat well drawn down over his eyes – asked, in sonorous tones, ” Have you got any money?” The elder youth laughed, but the younger lad’s face blanched, and he edged his horse away quick and lively. Thereafter our corner man was known as “Captain Moonlight.”

Starvation Creek was reached about 6 p.m., and immediately on passing over the bridge your eyes were drawn to a signboard affixed to a tree, bearing the name, “Starvation Creek” Fastened on to the sign-board was the dry thigh-bone of a bullock, indicative of miners’ results in fossicking for gold at that place. We pitched our camp on the flat, and, after tea, went fishing.

At 10 30, when the last of us were retiring for the night, we were attracted by the sound of bullock teams approaching, and, shortly afterwards, two wagons, loaded with 1500 palings each, and drawn by 16 and 14 bullocks respectively, hove in sight. Here, also, the drivers camped for the night, the bullocks being let loose (each with a bell round its neck) to forage as best they may. The bullock drivers had been at work since 5 a.m. They made their bed on some dozen bags of chaff, under a tarpaulin covering, which had been left there by Mr Buller, of the store at McMahon’s Creek, three miles further on. Mr Buller is accustomed to leaving half his load at this point on account of the steep hill between Starvation Creek and McMahon’s Creek, and so great is the code of honesty in this part that he has never been known to lose a bag.

January 12 -Up at 5.30 a m., our usual hour, and after bathing, breakfast, and repairing punctured bicycle tyres, the two cyclists covered the three miles to McMahon’s Creek in 25 minutes, notwithstanding the hills and dust. The peculiarity of this dust, viz., powdered schist rock was that no matter, what its depth you could always ride through it. A similar depth of dust around Kew would invariably bring you to a stand still. At Mr Buller’s store at McMahon’s Creek we laid in our stock of provisions, as this was the last store on our road, and we had still 26 miles to go and return before replenishing the larder.

By 12.30 we reached the old mining town of Reefton (which now consists of two houses), and camped for dinner. Whilst the meat, potatoes, and onions were cooking in the camp oven we adjourned to the river for a swim, but, so strong was the current, that not one of us could make any headway against the stream, and those who swam across made a decided diagonal course. Whilst at dinner, two cyclists rode up. They were the sons of Councillor Wilson, of the Lilydale shire, and were on their way to the Yarra Falls. Their tents, &c., had gone ahead of them in the coach. They had heard of us along the road, and had been keeping their weather eye open. We asked them to join our party, which they readily agreed to do, and right good campmates they were. The elder one is at the training college in Melbourne, and expects during this year to put in a portion of his time under our worthy friend, Mr McCrae, at the Kew East school.

McVeigh’s hotel, at Walsh’s Creek, was reached at 5 p.m., and our camp was pitched about a quarter of a mile beyond his house, at the junction of the Wood’s Point and Clear Creek roads. Owing to the kindness of Mr McVeigh, five of our number (now increased to 11) were able to sleep in a tent he has had permanently erected on the roadside on a wooden floor, and under a bark roof instead of a fly. Here we met Jimmy Clark, the man who cut the track to the Falls, and received full instructions as to the route to be taken.

Here two curious incidents were noted. The whole of this portion of the country has been permanently reserved for future water supply purposes for Melbourne, yet Mr McVeigh has the pick of the land, and has erected a large hotel. He has been resident there for nine years, and his house is the only one for miles around. The other incident is a printed notice of the Education Department re “compulsory attendance at school.” The youngest resident is the proprietor’s daughter (about 22 summers), and the nearest state school is a single-roomed paling dwelling fully half way to Warburton.

January 13 -After an early breakfast we started to pack our four horses in a peculiarly up-to-date style of our own, and just before starting, at 10.55, a photo was taken of the turnout. It will be interesting to see how they develop. From this point to the Falls Creek (16 miles) a pack track is followed, which for the most part skirts the Yarra. It is good solid plugging following this track up hill and down dale. At first the four horses were led, but “The General” soon became full of “Captain Moonlight’s” charger, and practised his ‘prentice  hand at bullock driving, and was successful in soon reducing his steed to a worthy pack-horse.

At 2.10 (7 miles) we reached Contention Camp (Bromley’s Reef Goldmine), but of this you shall hear more later on. After dinner we caught a few fish, and then pushed on with the intention of camping at Fall’s Creek, but at Poverty Bend (3 miles short) we were blocked by fallen timber and had to camp for the night on the track. Bed was sought at 9 p.m. About 11.30 p m. one of our number was awakened by a crashing sound, and on investigation it was found that one of the horses had got loose and had fallen off the track. All hands turned out, and until 2 am axes and tomahawks were used in cutting away timber to free the poor brute, who was jammed between two saplings, with his feet hanging over the creek.

After two and a-half hours’ solid graft we were able to pull the horse clear and roll him into the creek, about 2ft. deep. Then “The General” and “The Champion,” with lantern and axe, proceeded to lead the horse along the bed of the creek to the crossing, about 200 yards up, but being blocked by fallen timber, tethered him on the further bank for the night, and repaired to the camp-fire to dry their boots and socks. A billy of tea was soon brewed, and bed once more sought.

January 14 -A stir was made at 5.15 a.m., and a reconnoitre being made, it was found necessary to cut a zig-zag track up which to lead the horse. The barometer gave the fall of 47ft. down a 1 in 1 slope. At 9.30 a start was made, the horses being left behind with the driver, as the track was blocked. Falls Creek was reached at 10.30, after passing through a forest of beautiful beech trees, the timber previously being black butt and stringy bark. Here we found the brand of Mr A. J. Campbell, of the Mines Department, on a sassafras tree.

Mr Campbell gave the height of the Falls Creek as 1760ft. above sea level. Our barometer gave only 1550ft. From this point there is a steady climb of two miles and a-half up the spur, rising over 1000ft. in that distance. Turning to the right we reached the top of the falls at midday, where we had lunch. Four different photos of the falls were taken. Owing to want of time and shortness of provisions we were unable to climb from the top to the bottom – a distance of 700ft in less than half-a-mile.

The sight was one of exceeding grandeur, double falls, single falls, and cascades following one another in quick succession. The country itself was disappointing-trees there certainly were in plenty, but small plant life was rare. Snow lies on these mountains (2800ft. above sea level) for about eight months of the year. The water which soaks into the schist rock, of which the whole of these mountains are composed, freezes, and, expanding, splits the surface stones along their cleavage planes, thus rendering it exceedingly dangerous when climbing in parties. Once a stone is loosened from its bedding, it thunders down the hill and over the precipices (many of them from 50 to 100ft.), and never ceases until the foot of the falls is reached. One should never die of thirst in this country, but animal and bird life are practically an unknown quantity. At 2.10 p.m. we set out on our return picked up our horses at Poverty Bend at 4.15, had afternoon tea, and pushed on to Bromley’s Reef and pitched camp at 7.15.

January 15 – After breakfast, Mr Victor, the manager of the mine, which is the first opened up in this country, very kindly showed us all that there was to be seen. Two reefs have been discovered. No. 1 gave 4580z. from 130 tons; No. 2, about 150ft. west, 17oz from 15 tons. No. 2 is being worked at present. From the side of the hill a tunnel runs 160ft. west, and then the drive turns up north and south along the reef 130ft., which outcrops on the surface 60ft. above. The stone is run out on the trucks, and then sledged down to the 4-head battery worked by waterpower. The cost from first to last works out at 16s. per ton. From the battery a tunnel is being driven on a grade of 4ft. in 100ft. to intercept the No. 1 reef, which outcrops on the surface 670ft south, and has been opened out to a depth of 130ft, showing a reef 2ft. in thickness, carrying good gold the whole way. This tunnel has already been opened out 490ft., and it is expected that in nine weeks the shaft will be reached. Steel rails are being laid for the tram track in this tunnel, and it is the intention to tunnel across to No. reef, which will mean a considerable reduction in working expenses. The mine has been floated into a company of 30,000 shares at 5s. each, half paid up, and today are quoted on the market at 6s. 2d. The Hon. E. Miller is chairman of directors. I believe there is a big future before this district as regards mining. Our camp at McVeigh’s was reached at 1.50 pm, and the rest of the day was devoted to fishing.

January 16 – At 10 a.m. a start on the return home was made. We camped for the night at Big Pat’s Creek, and reached Little Yarra at 1 pm. on the 17th. There half the party returned by the night train, the remainder visited the Britannia Falls on the 18th, and on the 19th went up the Cockatoo Creek on a fishing expedition, leaving there on the morning of the 22nd, and arriving in Kew at 5 the same evening. All had a thorough good outing, and the event was carried out on strictly teetotal principles.’ Thanks to Thomas Osburg for this account.

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